Most people don’t want to admit it (or maybe no one wants to, but does anyway), but at some point in your life as an artist, you will get insanely jealous of another artist.
Hopefully that comes earlier when you’re just some no-name art school kid, but realistically if you have the ambition and drive to succeed in this crazy field, you’re going to feel it all the way through your career.
There’s always going to be someone smarter/more successful/more famous, whatever. If you just had a solo show, someone else had a sold-out solo show. Get a new studio job? Someone else has a higher-paying one, or is your supervisor. Sell a painting for $10,000? Someone probably sold one for $20,000. I’ll get it out of the way now: the big take-home for the day is: Think of an island and get over it.
The reason why you should just acknowledge your envy and then move on is that really, I have yet to find someone undeserving of their success, and you can’t really blame someone for working really really hard.
“But Rick,” you might say, “I work really really hard too, but they got lucky.” Sure, keep on making excuses. Maybe they’re really attractive, or maybe they have rich parents, or maybe (insert reason why they’re successful and you aren’t).
But the thing is that the reality of things are that the grass is always greener, and often you’ll have no idea of what that artist went through to achieve their success.
See some artist explode “overnight” with solo shows and magazine features? They might have come out of nowhere for you, but for people paying attention, they’ve been hustling for YEARS before they managed to reach the acclaim they have now.
See someone selling more than you at a convention (this is embarrassingly exactly what inspired me to write this)? It might seem like they’re just lucky, but maybe they’ve built a fan base over THE PAST 10 YEARS travelling all over the country to get to the point that people come looking for their booth. Was I jealous of their sales? Definitely, but I also didn’t invest years and years of time creating and hustling and building a brand, and also the monetary investment of trying conventions that didn’t work out, or traveling to shows that were poorly organized, etc., etc. etc.
While I was feeling all crappy about my own slower sales, I then realized that I was still selling a lot more than some other vendors, so I should probably shut up and feel grateful that people were buying from me at all.
The point is that often we’ll look to another artist and only see the tropical island – lush with plenty of amazing animals and trees and sexy people running around wearing very little. However, we don’t think about the bajillion of years that it took to form the island or the mass of rock that supports the island.
You see, we often don’t think of what’s under the water of a tropical island. It’s not some floating patch of dirt that just hangs out in the same place for our easy access. It’s actually anchored to a gigantic land mass that is completely submerged that’s formed from underwater volcanoes slowly spitting up hot lava and cools and builds upon itself until it breaches the water.*
An art career is just like a volcanic island – it takes time and lots and lots of energy to build up something magnificent that people can enjoy. Believe me, I was an impatient as anyone to jumpstart my art career while I was in art school. I’m still building up mine now. But I stress much less about the timeline nowadays. I’ve come to realize that nothing but hard work and time is going to build up my own art island and that I have my entire life to do so.
Art is all about the long game. Like I always say, if you’re not in it for the long haul, you might as well keep it as a hobby and focus your energy on something else. You should be focusing on doing something you love, and if art doesn’t get you juiced up enough to devote your life to it, you should probably focus on finding something that does inspire you that much.
So the next time you feel the ugly green demon of jealousy spring up from within you, remember the volcanic island metaphor and remember that your time too shall come. Take a deep breath, congratulate the artist, and then try to deconstruct their blueprint to success and learn from it.
*Technically there are six different ways an island can form (so says National Geographic), but for argument’s sake let’s focus on the ones that are made from underwater volcanoes.